By James Brabenec, Fort Sill CannoneerMay 29, 2009
Nary a breath of wind stirred as Fort Sill paused in reverence to honor and remember the fallen during a Memorial Day service in front of the post headquarters Monday.
Brig. Gen. Ross Ridge, Fort Sill deputy commanding general and assistant commandant of the United States Army Field Artillery School officiated the ceremony attended by more than 150 people.
"It is incumbent upon each of us to teach our children the significance of this day and understand how fortunate we are to live in such a wonderful country, because of the ultimate commitment made by those before us," he said. "We have been given a gift, a gift more precious than any of us can fully appreciate. The least we can do is take the time to honor the benefactors who so selflessly provided it."
The 77th U.S. Army Band played patriotic music to open the ceremony and followed later with "Taps" and the national anthem. Honors included a 21-round artillery salute conducted by the Fort Sill salute battery, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Field Artillery. Flag detail, color guard and wreath handlers for the ceremony consisted of military personnel from the 428th and 434th Field Artillery brigades, the United States Marine Corps detachment and Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
In attendance were members of American Legion Post 193, the Society of Military Widows, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 602, and the Veterans of Foreign War, Post 5263.
Deputy installation chaplain, Lt. Col. Calvin Eastham, opened with the invocation to honor the memory and cherish the heroic acts of servicemembers who died in service to this country. The prayer concluded with a reminder to "preserve and strengthen the bond between those remembered in the ceremony and today's Soldiers, Marines, airmen, sailors and Coast Guardsmen."
The day of honor was originally called Decoration Day and was officially proclaimed May 5, 1868 by Maj. Gen. John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed later that same year on May 30 when flowers were placed on the graves of dead Union and Confederate Soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Troy Hensch, adjutant VFW post 5263, read the published order, General Order No. 11, as it was proclaimed on May 5, 1868. The order originally called Americans to set aside May 30 as a day of remembrance for the estimated 620,000 servicemembers who had died during the Civil War. The order suggested people conduct such ceremonies as they saw fit to honor the war dead buried in many cities, towns and villages throughout the recovering country.
Ridge and Bob Tryan, VFW post commander in Lawton, then moved forward to place a wreath in remembrance of fallen servicemembers. On a day filled with meaning, elected officials followed placing red, white and blue flowers on the wreath. The red flowers signified devotion and everlasting remembrance and memory of the heroic dead who have fallen in defense of the United States of America. The white flowers were symbols of purity that each succeeding generation may emulate the selfless courage of all the Americans who fought for the freedoms enjoyed today. The blue flowers served as emblems of eternity, signifying life everlasting and immortalizing the brave deeds of Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who gave their lives on land, sea and in the air.
Silence and reverence permeated the gathering while remembrance for those who served and gave of themselves resonated through the horn of a lone trumpet player from the Army band who played "Taps." The salute battery then punctuated the moment with the 21-round artillery salute.
Ridge recalled the words of journalist Elmer Davis who said, "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave."
"I am truly honored to be with all of you on this day so rich with meaning. I think the real expression of honor for these distinguished citizens is not with the pomp and circumstance of this ceremony but in your willingness to be here today to show that you care," Ridge said. "We celebrate the courage, selfless service and loyalty of the servicemembers who took an oath to protect our nation's interests and died in the fulfillment of that pledge."
Ridge reminded those in attendance of the families of fallen veterans who endure Memorial Day as a difficult day grieving the loss of family members.
"This day commemorates the sacrifice their loved ones made so that others may go about their daily routines freely and without fear," he said.
Ridge said Memorial Day was born of compassion and empathy, and that General Logan picked late May because of the abundance on flowers available at this time of year, each a symbol of life's renewal and beauty.
The deputy commander posed the question, why do men and women serve in the armed forces, and said the reasons include a call to duty and a sense of purpose servicemembers develop through service to their country. It's that purpose that forges the determination and grit of servicemembers.
"Soldiers endure hardships together and help one another overcome fear, difficulty and loss. They develop confidence in each other, their units and leaders. They believe by banding together for a common cause they make a difference in the security of Americans at home and the liberty of those abroad," he said.
Ridge added Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen are standing guard at home and abroad ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if needed to protect the country, to preserve our national interests and to lay their lives down for each other.
He concluded his remarks with a reference to the words of Capt. John Miller in the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." As death neared, Miller summoned his last reserves of strength, looked Private Ryan in the eye and told him, "earn this" in reference to his comrades who laid down their lives to save him.
"We should ask ourselves what have we done to earn this special gift that our fallen veterans have provided us," said Ridge. "To remember is not enough it's what you do with this gift that is important."
Tryan then spoke to the crowd honoring all veterans and calling on people to remember veterans long after the flag waving and treat them with dignity and respect for their selfless service.
The band concluded the ceremony celebrating service in the armed forces with a music medley of the service branch songs wrapping up with the Army song. Civilians dressed in patriotic colors, some in the uniforms they wore long ago on active duty and a couple holding a banner proclaiming "We Support Our Troops" joined in refrain as voices young and old sang "as the Army goes rolling along."